Three takeaways from the Royals' Spring Training opener

February 24th, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The clouds parted at just the right time to let the sun shine on Surprise Stadium, and John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” blasted through the loudspeakers. Heck, there was even an Outback Steakhouse promotion pregame, complete with Bloomin’ Onion and Coconut Shrimp mascots.

What this all means: Baseball is back.

The Royals kicked off their spring schedule Friday afternoon with a 5-4 loss to the Rangers. Among the highlights was crushing the first home run of the spring, a long ball off Cody Bradford to the left-center field berm.

As Cactus League play ramps up, here are three things to watch:

Pasquantino’s return
could not sleep on Thursday night. The anticipation and excitement of playing in his first game since he had shoulder surgery last June was simply too much; the most he slept at one time was 45 minutes, spending the time awake watching "The Office." Finally, he relented at 4:20 a.m. and got up.

“A lot of emotions, really,” Pasquantino said. “One of those things where I wasn’t really worried about anything else, just having fun. I was on the phone with my dad this morning about [how] you don’t often feel the way that I did this morning.”

This spring and season is all about the acquisitions the Royals made this winter, but Pasquantino’s return might be the most impactful. He’s a middle-of-the-order hitter with patience and power, providing protection around Bobby Witt Jr. and Salvador Perez.

All Pasquantino is worried about is playing. He had been pushing manager Matt Quatraro for a spot in the lineup Friday since this offseason.

His first at-bat was a sharp one-hopper to first base, his second a pop-out, and his third was a long fly ball that nearly went over the right field fence. Pasquantino played five innings in the field, and he’s already looking forward to his next game – although he thinks he’ll sleep well tonight.

“I hope so,” Pasquantino said. “I know a crash is coming at some point.”

Lynch's role
Starter pitched a scoreless inning, working around a leadoff walk to Marcus Semien. Lynch is building up as a starter and competing for a rotation spot after being limited to just 52 1/3 innings last year due to shoulder injuries.

Friday was his first big league game since last July.

“I felt really just thankful for the opportunity to be back out there, and then the fact that my body felt good,” Lynch said. “That was huge.”

Lynch threw all his pitches in the inning and sat around 91-93 mph with both his fastballs, according to the stadium radar gun (which can be a tick off at times). Now that Lynch is healthy, he’s hoping that velocity will tick up as he ramps up his strength.

To be more effective against lefties -- who hit .333 against him last year -- Lynch has moved toward the first-base side of the rubber, which helps the angle and deception of his sinker. Hitters have given him good feedback on it so far this spring.

Now, Lynch is simply focused on winning a spot on the Royals’ Opening Day roster.

“It’s just being available and knowing what you’re going to get when you go out there,” Lynch said. “It’s going to be strikes, attacking the zone. Ideally, the stuff will tick up because I’m healthy. I try to keep it simple. But those are the things I’m really focused on.”

The bullpen competition
The bullpen has probably the deepest competition this spring. Adding to that was news Friday that Carlos Hernández is dealing with minor shoulder soreness, and despite the Royals expecting six to seven live appearances from him before the end of Spring Training, there’s some uncertainty about his spot.

Several relievers vying for a spot made their spring debuts Friday, including Matt Sauer, Tyler Duffey and Jake Brentz, who appeared in a big league game for the first time since April 2022. A long rehab following Tommy John surgery and a lat strain last year is over. Brentz faced six batters and got one out, walking four with one strikeout.

Brentz said he felt good physically and with his stuff, so the next step is finding the zone. As a lefty who can throw upper-90s -- he was around 94-95 mph Friday -- he offers the Royals a unique arm for their bullpen if he throws strikes.

“Show them what I’m about and what I’m capable of,” Brentz said of his goals. “Commanding all three pitches, just attacking guys. Keeping it simple. Definitely didn’t do that today, but we’ll do that from here on out.”